Insurer appeals payout to brain damaged girl


Churchill dog

Churchill Insurance is appealing against a court ruling that a driver was entirely to blame for running over a teenager and leaving her with brain damage. The court had found in the girl's favour, but the insurer is arguing that the girl was partly to blame.

So why is it refusing to pay, and how common is it for an insurer to fight a payout?

The case

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Bethany Probert of Silverstone, Northamptonshire, was 13 when she decided to walk home down a country lane after a riding lesson. She was walking on a grass verge on the dark lane and listening to music through headphones when she was hit by a car travelling at 50 mph.

She suffered broken bones, lung damage and brain damage. She needs specialist equipment and a specially adapted single-storey home. She also has a care worker. Her mother sued the driver for the cost of care for the rest of Bethany's life.

The High Court found the driver entirely to blame and ordered a payout from his insurers - although the amount had not been set. The Mirror says that at the time the Judge Mr David Pittaway, QC, said: "An ordinary 13-year-old should not be expected to consider taking the same level of precautions as an adult."

However, the insurers, Churchill, have been granted leave to appeal. It will be seen as a test case to establish whether children can be blamed for road accidents. A spokesman for Churchill told the Mirror: "While we accept that our insured was liable in part for the accident, we are appealing [against] the decision that he was entirely to blame."

The lawyers plan to argue that Bethany should have known of the need to wear reflective clothing because she was a horserider. The family argues that their lives have been ruined, they have waited three years to get this far, and it's cruel to make them wait even longer for closure.


The reaction on Facebook has been furious.Tracy Earp said: "Bad move Churchill, I'm another you can add to the very long list of people who will not be using you." Nicky Hobson agreed: "Disgusted you are blaming a young child for being run over... You will lose FAR more than a million in lost custom. Shame on you".

Paul 'Sparky' Sparks added: "You must realise the damage you are doing to your own reputation through this negative publicity is faaar outweighing whatever blood money you manage to recover from the initial verdict."

Churchill commented today: "We fully understand the sentiment around the tragic Bethany Probert case. We have already accepted that our insured driver was largely responsible for this accident. Please be assured that we will be abiding by whatever decision the Court makes. As is usual in these circumstances, as this case is now before the Court we cannot comment on it in any more detail at this moment in time."

It's not unusual for insurers to argue over a payout. At the end of last year we covered the story of Nic Hughes, whose wife had taken to online campaigning after his death. He had been refused a critical illness payout despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer of the gall bladder - on the grounds that his medical details weren't complete when he applied for the cover in the first place.

Insurers will always reject whatever they can because they are trying to limit their exposure, and because we are insuring against the worst case scenario, the tales of arguments with insurers are often tragic. But should we blame insurers for this? Or are they just trying to do their jobs?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

10 of the biggest consumer rip-offs

10 of the biggest consumer rip-offs

More stories